Written by Beverley Lennon
If you’re new on the island-hopping bandwagon in Malaysia and if you’ve already checked out Langkawi, the Terengganu Islands are where you might want to go next before you can head further to the ones that sit along the coast of Johor.
The postcard-pretty Terengganu islands are located 4 hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur and a quick boat ride away. They are easily accessible and make for great options if you’re looking for a day trip from mainland Kuala Terengganu or a short weekend getaway too as some of them have great accommodation options!
Being a regular island-hopper and having travelled there myself, I can assure you that they are absolutely worth jumping on a speed boat for! Now, I am sure that you’ve heard of the most popular ones like Perhentian Islands and Redang but the smaller and lesser-known islands pack a big punch too and these are the ones that shouldn’t be missed!
With some of them being relatively unexplored, prepare to swim and come up close with whale sharks, rays, turtles and other unique marine creatures. Some of the islands have short scenic hikes on offer too, but one thing is for sure; they all come with droppingly postcard-worthy views, crystal clear waters, white-sandy beaches and thrilling sea adventures!
Eco-note: Locals struggle and work hard to make sure the islands are kept clean. Very often, trash flows from the mainland as well as rubbish disposal from hotels so let’s all do our part to keep the islands clean!
– Best time to visit: Early March (best weather)
– Monsoon season: Between November and February (the island closes down during this period)
– Peak season: Between April and September (expect big crowds during this period)
– There are no ATMs on the islands, so do prepare enough cash!
– For those staying overnight, it is recommended to bring a flashlight to walk around the islands and pack some mosquito repellent!
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1. A dreamy bucket-list-worthy island – Kapas Island
If the infamous Perhentian Islands sound like a bit too much for you, Kapas Island might be more your speed. It is the true definition of an isolated island and is ideal for those who want chill beach vibes, untouched by nightlife and action.
In fact, the lack of proper connection (say goodbye to Instagram stories) and limited electricity supply make it ideal for a day trip or an overnight one if you intend to completely disconnect and detox.
It is located a short 30-minute boat ride from mainland Terengganu and gets its name from its endless beaches of powdery sand outlining its coast. Trust me, it’s exactly where you’ll want to throw a towel down or pull up a sun lounger to unwind. After all, the aim of the game here is relaxing and recuperating.
Now for the best part, the unique trait of this island is that you can walk from one stretch of beach to another by using the built-in pathway (only accessible during low tide) so chances are you’ll be able to find a secluded beach all to yourself!
And when you want to let your hair down and do more than just dozing off on the beach, you’re invited to explore the island’s beautiful waters. Kapas Island is home to turtles, so you’ll be spending the day going between the turquoise waters and a nice cold drink by the beach.
But that isn’t it all; if you have some time, roll up your sleeves and go chasing the best of views! You can hike up Bukit Singa, the two small hills at Kapas Island that lead to an enchanted blue lagoon or if you’re after some adrenaline rush you can go cliff jumping too!2. The Philippines of Malaysia! – Tenggol Island
Why The Philippines of Malaysia you’ll ask… well, simply two words: WHALE SHARKS! Tenggol Island is part of the Terengganu Marine Park but it’s a spot that’s flown under the radar for most of us – until now. This mind-blowing island is high on my personal bucket list — so much so I was half tempted not to draw any attention to it here.
Similar to what the Perhentian Islands were a couple of decades ago, it is a true paradise for anyone who enjoys spending time in the water. I mean, take a peek at the Instagram location and you’ll surely want to make a beeline for its dreamy white sandy beaches.
Now let’s talk about its underwater wonderland that attracts whale sharks, turtles, rays and more dreamy stuff that’ll make you feel like you’re swimming/diving or snorkelling in a giant aquarium!
There isn’t much happening on the island, but I’d recommend you to stay overnight if time permits. Right by the ocean, you’ll find Tenggol Coral Beach Resort, a stay that’s of gold standard when it comes to proximity to the sea, comfort and affordability!
It is deemed to be one of Malaysia’s 5-star PADI Dive Resorts so say goodbye to the usual sleazy-looking diving hotels as this is where you get to enjoy a hot shower (yes there’s hot water!) and air-conditioning after spending a day underwater! You can also visit the resort on a day pass for as low as RM 200 per person (inclusive of buffet lunch). The resort is fully Halal-certified too!
3. For crazy beautiful transparent waters and baby sharks! – Lang Tengah Island
I like to refer to Lang Tengah Island as the big sister of Kapas Island; a bit more mature, a bit more developed, with better accommodation options, yet they share similar traits – quiet and shy, they are both often overlooked by those coming to the East Coast and maybe it’s just right like that?
Lang Tengah is kept secret for a good reason – prepare for untouched sandy beaches, lively corals and a laid-back way of life, it is a literal oasis combining a stunning desert sandy landscape with every shade of blue you can imagine. It is also known as a top-diving site! A few metres underwater is where you can come up close with a ghost wreck and fish garden!
If beach hopping, trekking for the best views and stuffing yourself silly on seafood BBQ sounds like your kind of jam, then we can only conclude that Lang Tengah should be your next go-to Malaysian getaway.
While you could come over on a day trip, one of the best ways to explore this paradise-on-earth is by staying overnight. Overlooking the spectacular South China Sea, you’ll find the tropical hideaway of Summer Bay Lang Tengah Island Resort where gentle waves of turquoise waters set the scene for a worthy escape. There are only three accommodation options available around the island, they are all spacious and comfortable resorts but you’ll definitely find one for your budget!
Stay packages are inclusive of meals (breakfast or all-inclusive), snorkelling trips, jungle trekking (check out Batu Kuching and Batu Bulan), as well as a night tour to the magical Blue Tears! Be sure to keep a night for stargazing – Lang Tengah’s skies are known to be free from light pollution!
4. Explore a secret sea cave! – Pulau Rhu
This might not be your typical sandbank trip, but who needs it when you can have a secret sea cave? Pulau Rhu is a tiny island, the closest one to the mainland, yet it feels untouched and so far removed from it all!
Now, I know it takes a lot to impress us beach bums but give us some dramatic-looking sea caves and a good session of fun on the banana boat and we’ll be more than happy too, right!? Well, friends, that’s what you get at Pulau Rhu!
Spend time underwater, watching beautiful sunsets and maybe fishing for dinner as you can find a campsite on the island for those wishing to rough it out a little (we’ve heard sunrise on the island is equally mesmerizing)!
5. There’s even a sandbank in the middle of the ocean! – Redang Island
Redang Island needs no introduction, am I right? She’s the cool, popular kid on the block, the one that’s on everyone’s lips and that’s why she deserves to be mentioned! Among the Terengganu Islands, Redang probably holds the ‘influencer’ title and often seems to be in competition with the Perhentian Islands but I have to say that when it comes to glistening waters, Redang Island completely stands out from the crowd!
Here, you’ll find powdery stretches of beach with ample space to sunbathe (especially during the peak season between April to October when visitors tend to flock in to enjoy the tropical warm weather). It’s also a spot for turtles to come and nest so you could be swimming with some of them throughout your day at Redang Island!
Not many people know about this but Redang Island is made up of 9 islands in total and you can hop from one island to another in no time! One that you should not miss is Pulau Kerengga – here you can stand on a sandbank and swim in transparent waters!
Now, with so many islands to explore, a day trip might not be enough so if you would like to make the most of it, you can consider staying overnight too. Redang Island features stunning stays. Taaras Beach Resort and Spa, for instance, is one that looks truly appealing to us!
This low-key 5-star island hideaway, wedged between the jungle and the ocean, features rooms, suites, as well as an exclusive five-bedroom villa option and we have to confess that the hotel itself is as impressive as its location – decadent interiors guarantee for a barefoot luxury experience, with every corner of the property being simply sumptuous.
6. Unleash your inner Robinson Crusoe – Gem Island Resort & Spa
Read More: 15 Romantic resorts and villas in Malaysia that make you feel like you are overseas without flying!
Gem Island is as dreamy as it sounds and what an appropriate name, it’s almost a fantasy to the ears! This small island is located right next to Pulau Kapas but usually attracts a whole different crowd and despite being pretty close to the mainland, the water at Gem Island is considered to be pretty clear!
The island features only one resort (yes, similar to the Maldives!) and truth be told, it is the stay itself that’s the main attraction on the island.
Now, I would not recommend you to purposely take a boat to check out Gem Island; it is best to make it one of your several stops throughout the day as there isn’t much to do on the island besides spending time in the water or relaxing on the beach. Alternatively, if you’re staying at the nearby islands, you could drop by here for a few hours whenever you’re ready to branch out and see more.
But for those of you looking for somewhere exclusive and secluded, there’s truly no better way to enjoy your night than checking into the private island resort which features only suites and villas (some of which stand above the ocean)!
Past guests have even found themselves to be the only ones at the resort; that means if you’re lucky enough, you could truly enjoy the whole island to yourself! The on-site restaurant boasts Asian and Western cuisine while you can even call up for some room service–- yep it can get boujee in here and that’s why it does not attract budget travellers!
And now coming to the most stunning feature – you’ll find the magnificent pool directly engraved within an enormous granite rock, overlooking the sea. You’ll find yourself jumping into the ocean where you can swim with whale sharks, out and… ploof, in the pool, after which, you also get to enjoy seeing turtles hatch at the sanctuary!
7. Locals claim that this island is haunted?! – Bidong Island
We’re always scouting for the most picturesque islands but when is it that we come across one with oodles of history, all the while being mesmerizing at the same time?!
I give you Bidong Island. While it is now uninhabited, back in the days, the island served as a Vietnamese refugee camp (this is also why the island is known as Little Saigon). It was only in the late 90s that the island was handed over to the Terengganu State Government and opened up to the public.
Till today, there are many traps in the form of abandoned wells dug by the refugees in search of fresh water and you can even come across some relics that’ll bring you back in time!
Fun fact, the island was known to be the most populated place in the world as during the “refugee peak season”, it was home to over 40,000 refugees packed together in a small area that was as big as a football field! To note that the island only had the capacity to accommodate for 4,500 refugees!
For years, locals have tried to turn the island into a heritage attraction but in vain; proposals have not been approved yet. Right now, there’s no major development planned for the island so it’s the right time to take a day trip and explore what it has. Besides its spooky history, it features exciting diving spots where you’ll come across furniture items, vehicles and more! How intriguing, right!?
8. No resorts mean no polluted water! – Pulau Rawa
Note: Not to be confused with the other Pulau Rawa in Johor/ Mersing!
Pulau Rawa offers up the same crystal clear waters that you’ll find in Redang Island but with a much quieter and more relaxing atmosphere.
In fact, it does resemble the islands you can find in Europe or more specifically around the Meditteranean Sea – could this be the Sardinia of Malaysia?!
It’s also a snorkeler’s dream thanks to the lively corals and garden of fish that roam around throughout the 300+ days of sunshine each year!
The island serves as a turtle nesting site and tourist day trip favourite but it is uninhabited so you’ll be in total heaven here. It is easily one of the most beautiful spots in Terengganu.
The lack of development on the island makes it ideal for a day trip, there’s nothing much to do other than being on the sand or in the water (or underwater for that matter) so you better be prepared to get very relaxed!
9. Stop by here if you are a snorkeling fan! – Pulau Susu Dara
Pulau Susu Dara or “The Virgin Milk Island” – this coral-dotted water paradise in Terengganu isn’t your typical deserted white-sand island; it’s got grottos and rocky coastlines but when the tide is low, dazzling powdery sandy beaches pop up!
With its rich collection of coral gardens, Pulau Susu Dara is an uninhabited water wonderland and bound to be an ultimate stop on your island-hopping trip around the Terengganu Islands.
However, the island is quite inaccessible so you will be required to charter a boat or check for packages that are inclusive of a trip to Pulau Susu Dara. That’s probably why it remains so untouched!
10. Have a pre-taste of what party in Bali is like – Pulau Perhentian Kecil
I mean, it’s not as crazy as Ibiza but hey Perhentian Kecil got some serious blue waters along with some restless party vibes going on; especially if you’re here during the peak season when it’s flooded with university students on semester break!
Whether your group includes a dances-on-top-of-tables extrovert, a nautical aficionado, or a don’t-come-near me introvert, a trip on the Perhentian Islands is guaranteed to satisfy all of your vacation requirements. After all, they are Malaysia’s islands big hitter right?!
Personally, I have been to Pulau Perhentian Kecil a couple of years ago but not with the intention of partying so I was a bit worried that it would get too loud at times (blame my misophonia) but the truth is, I was absolutely wrong!
While the party crowd gathers on the popular Long Beach, the other side is where you’ll find the tranquil Coral Bay, probably the complete opposite of Long Beach – chill vibes, ocean view restaurants and so much more for when you don’t quite feel like raving all night long!
One of the top things to do while on the island is to sign up for a snorkeling trip. There are countless little shops along the beach that sell packages but a good option is to check out the ones offered by Ombak Resort (they are a diving resort for good reasons after all). You can snorkel at the Turtle Point, Shark Point, Coral Garden and many more! Those looking for a bit more action can opt to hike up to Windmill Point for some of the most stunning ocean views!
If you are here for longer than just a day trip, I’d recommend you check out Alunan Boutique Resort for some jaw-dropping oceanview rooms. The resort is literally attached to the rocky shores of the island (in fact you’ll need to hike a little to reach your suite), sweeping down to merge with the transparent waters all the while protected by lush surroundings!
In the evening, take a seat at Ombak Resort for their open-air movie night or there are several beachside cafes and restaurants that propose toes-in-the-sand sunset dinners with exciting fireshows too!
Although not ideal for a day trip, we think this island deserves to be on the list too! So if you’re after a serene location to spend the night at (also romantic), check out this option!
The bigger the better? – Pulau Perhentian Besar
Pulau Perhentian Besar is probably a better version of paradise – I like to call it ‘the grown up’ one among the Perhentians. It’s serene, tranquil and delivers eye-candy galore with its acres of dazzling beaches and it’s probably why it is preferred for an overnight stay as compared to a day trip.
It also attracts a smaller crowd as compared to Pulau Perhentian Kecil so you can enjoy nicer/cleaner waters, cheaper prices and more space at the resorts on the island.
The northern and eastern sides of the islands are best for snorkeling and apart from throwing down a towel on the sand, swimming in crystal-clear waters (visit PIR Beach!) or grabbing your snorkeling gear to head to the water, there aren’t many touristy things to do on the island.
There’s also a campground at Teluk KK for those who would like to rough it out in peace and since both islands are covered with lush jungles, you can go for treks and spot monitor lizards and monkeys!
There are some nice resorts on the island. You can enjoy your very own private pool at Coral View Island Resort, balcony with sea views at Perhentian Island Resort or if you’re here with your little ones, Tuna Bay Island Resort is a good family-friendly option for you!
Which of these islands are you checking out next? Share this with your island-hopping buddies so they can dream along too!